Japanese TV fulfills yen for ‘Millionaire’

Fuji TV buys rights

TOKYO — “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the Godzilla of quizshow formats, is stomping its way into Japan.

Fuji Television has bought the rights to produce a Japanese version of the worldwide hit from the U.K.’s Celador Prods., marking the first time a British quiz format has traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun.

“It is both a big chance and a great challenge for us to create a reformatted version of a foreign hit program, and we will give it our all to make it successful,” said Chihiro Kameyama, senior director of programming at Fuji.

“For years Japan has been a notoriously hard market to break into for production of television shows in the West,” Celador managing director Paul Smith explained. “This is a ground-breaking deal for Celador.”

Fuji has commissioned 26 hourlong episodes for primetime broadcast every Thursday beginning in April. ECM Prods. will exec produce the show. Deal was brokered by ECM’s Eddie Nelson.

Fuji’s Kameyama said that because of laws limiting the amount of money that may be awarded on a gameshow, the top prize for “Millionaire Quiz” will be 10 million yen ($90,000) — the legal maximum.

Monta Mino will serve as host of Fuji’s show, and programming exec Kameyama said that the Japanese quiz master has the same “romance gray hair color” as Regis Philbin.

“Given the tough economic situation in Japan, we would love to bring the prize money to 100 million yen ($900,000) because the larger stakes would really help to attract viewers,” Kameyama said.

The Japanese version of the show will be produced by Toshihiko Matsuo, the person behind hit Fuji TV show “The Iron Chef,” which has earned a steady following on U.S. cabler the Food Network.

Fuji TV, which is strong in the latter half of primetime on weekdays as its drama series attract hordes of younger viewers, is trying to capture older audiences in the 6-8 p.m. slots to compete more effectively with ratings leader NTV.

“Millionaire” fits into Fuji’s plans for broadening its audience base and boosting ratings in the early evening.

Masumi Kobayashi of Fuji’s international department said that purchasing foreign formats may be the wave of the future for Japanese broadcasters faced with the challenge of providing programming for more channels.

“Millionaire,” which first saw light of day in the U.K. in September 1998, has now been broadcast in 17 countries, including Australia, Spain, Israel and, of course, the U.S. Format has been licensed or optioned in 77 countries.

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